I am a mama who struggled with postpartum depression.
That was nine years ago, but I'm sharing my postpartum story with you today -- all these years later -- because I think this is an important conversation for the church to have.
How do you feel that the church addresses issues of mental health? How about your church?
When I suffered with depression, I was very reluctant to ask for help, and I didn't let anyone in my church know about my struggle. I felt a deep sense of spiritual failure. I knew what the fruits of the spirit were, and I didn't feel any joy. I felt like a disappointment to my faith.
Tullian Tchividjian says it like this: "The mandatory happiness we require inside the church often perpetuates the pain people feel. But we have a faith that actually embraces suffering, that looks it square in the face and is realistic about it. The idea that God suffers for us and with us is what sets Christianity apart."
My hope, in sharing this story, is that anyone suffering will seek help, let go of the guilt, and know that there's hope and healing on the other side.
So, then, this story:
So much about those days is fuzzy, but I still remember groping around in the dark of my mind. It seemed that all the color had been sucked out of my life, which was a lie, but that’s the way it all looked to me. And felt. Just gray.
I didn’t understand why I felt this way. Me, with a happy marriage, nice home, healthy toddler, new baby. Who but a spoiled brat would be crying when she’s living any woman’s dream? What kind of wife and mother was I anyway?
They call this “rock bottom,” I guess. Some people find it at the bottom of a bottle or when they slip their last dollar into a slot machine or when they wake up one morning and realize that they messed up real bad the night before.
But here is where I scraped against my rock bottom: cutting up a red apple for my daughter.
It was 10 p.m., and the baby was finally asleep. My 2-year-old was still awake, though, because I guess I’d forgotten that she had a bedtime. And it shocked me, how I’d forgotten. That self-accusing voice hissed at me, What kind of mother are you, anyway? She asked for an apple before she went to bed, so I pulled a Red Delicious from the bottom drawer of the refrigerator.
I remember thinking at the time that I hadn’t done anything for her all day long, except cut up this apple. Which was a lie, but I couldn’t always tell the difference. I peeled away the skin because she didn’t like her apples with skin, and I picked out the seeds.
I handed her the apple slices on a plastic Dora the Explorer plate, and I sat down with her at her tea-party table. Folded into a child’s chair across from her, I dropped my head into my hands and sobbed.
Because what kind of mother waits until 10 o’clock at night to do something nice for her child?
I had read about mothers like me—mothers who couldn’t cope—in the pamphlets that the nurse gave me before my first baby was born. None of it came true for me, and I was happy with my first baby—always and only happy. But it was different with my second baby, and as I searched for answers, the probable diagnosis pulsed in the soft glow of the internet: postpartum depression.
I read that this condition was “normal.” Whatever normal was. But this didn’t feel normal—waiting until 10 o’clock at night to serve an apple to my child. The online experts said I should seek help.
But, no, I wouldn’t ask for help. Not me! What kind of mother of two would be so needy, when mothers of four and five manage just fine?
Later that night, my husband slipped his arm around my waist, pulled me close, and said that it was okay to ask for help. I sobbed into his shoulder. “Why,” he asked, “do you always think you’ve got to do everything in your own power?”
So I called her the next day, my sister in Kansas City. Would she come? Would she drop everything—her life, her own kids—and drive six hours north to help me so I could do more than slice up an apple for my little girl?
The first night she was here, my sister stayed awake all night cradling my crying baby while I slept.
The next day, I went to the doctor, who gave me some pills. When I got home, my sister handed me a piece of white paper. I think now that it was a God prescription. She told me I needed to say the words she had written on the paper every single day, or more often, as needed: “Lord, give me enough grace for today.”
She had underlined the word “today.”
I went into my bedroom closet that day, and for the first time ever, I fell to my knees before the Lord. I dropped my head onto the carpet in the dark closet beside the laundry hamper. Right there, I aired my dirty laundry to Jesus. My feelings of guilt and despair. My inadequacy. My stiff-necked pride. All of it. I did most of the talking, and he didn’t seem to mind.
“Lord, give me enough grace for today,” I prayed.
My sister says that on that day, I came out of the bedroom a different woman. She said she didn’t know what happened in my room, behind that closed door, but she said I was a new person when I walked out.
I focused on the single step before me, rather than the miles-long journey ahead. I took that same single step, day after day after day, leaning into each day's grace. I trusted that it was just enough for my day, and that tomorrow He would provide again. The days felt long, sometimes, but months later, I looked back and saw how far I'd come -- the evidence of daily grace, every day.
Yesterday, I was cleaning out the drawers in the kitchen. I found my sister’s note about daily grace in the drawer by the oven. It was lying under a stack of old catalogs.
I don’t take those pills anymore. I would if I needed to, but I stopped years ago. God cleared the gray and brought color back into my life as a mother. And for some reason, the day I stopped taking the pills, I tucked my sister’s note into this drawer -- as if grace daily were no longer required.
But when I found the note again, I took it from under the pile and taped it to the pantry door.
Because who would throw away the handwriting on the wall?
I still need His grace, for this day and for always.
My essay about postpartum depression appeared in the book, Miracles & Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories from Moms. The book includes essays from Nancy B. Kennedy, Melanie Shankle, Sophie Hudson, Lynn Cowell, Glynnis Whitwer, and many others.
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